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India's LCA unlikely to use Kaveri engine until late next decade

India's Tejas light combat aircraft could use a foreign powerplant until the middle of the next decade, due to ongoing problems with the development of an indigenous engine. The LCA is scheduled to enter service with the Indian air force in 2011,

The state-owned Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE) has spent Rp20 billion ($411 million) developing the indigenous Kaveri engine since 1989, but the powerplant is still overweight and does not have the 21,000-22,500lb of thrust (93-100kN) that its customer requires.

The difficulties led to the Aeronautical Development Agency, which is developing the Tejas, ordering General Electric F404-IN20 engines last year to power the aircraft. These will ensure that the fighter, which has also been plagued by other delays, achieves initial operational capability by the end of next year and enters service in 2011.

 © Aeronautical Development Agency

Now, the agency is likely to place an order for GE F414 engines this year to power another 20 fighters, says M Natarajan, secretary of India's Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), which oversees the ADA. "The first two LCA squadrons, consisting of 20 jets each, will be fitted with General Electric engines. The subsequent squadrons could fly with an upgraded version of [the] Kaveri engine," he says.

The ADA is working with the GTRE and the air force to improve the Kaveri. Natarajan reiterates that the programme will not be scrapped. "A team of air force engineers is working with GTRE and ADA in addressing the issues. As an ongoing project, the air force will be involved at the point of integrating the upgraded version of the engine with the aircraft," he adds.

The GTRE is also likely to work with French engine manufacturer Snecma on the Kaveri, although the two sides have yet to reach an agreement for joint development and testing, and for the transfer of technology and manufacturing. "Discussions with Snecma have been going on for two years," says Natarajan. "Development and flight-testing of the new engine will take at least five to six years."

Separately, a higher-thrust version of the Kaveri will also power India's proposed medium combat aircraft development. The ADA is working with the air force to develop the model, which it hopes will eventually replace Dassault Mirage fighters and Sepecat Jaguar strike aircraft. It will also supplement the service's Sukhoi Su-30MKIs, Tejas and new medium multirole combat aircraft that India will order in the next few years.

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